Wednesday, May 21, 2008

St. Paul's Paste

I was having an interesting conversation with a friend a few days ago. Actually, this topic has been popping up quite a bit lately. I’ve been noticing that it seeps out from my mouth like sneeze droplets. I don’t really mean to get other people infected with my problem, but it just happens.
I want to talk about why I don’t want to go to church. Or, more specifically, why I don’t as of late feel like attending my church.

You have to understand, gentle reader, that to talk about such things is quite touchy. You see, I am employed by my church. My husband is employed by my church. My father is employed by and somewhat runs the church. (Somewhat….) My kids attend preschool at the church. My friends work at the church or volunteer at the church or pass the offering plate at the church.

Are you seeing a pattern?

Before I really begin, let me say that my church is a good place. Just like any other human institution, it has problems. But the people here have good hearts or at least not bad hearts and they try to do what is right. I don’t think we can ask much more from a group of fallen, smelly humans, can we?

But I don’t feel as if I really fit in here, which is strange, considering that this building, this campus, this group is one of the only constant things in my life. Regardless of where my house was or who my friends were or how I felt about the Academy Awards, this church has always been here. I appreciate the constancy, as I feel that many people in this day and age are missing that element of community. It is hard to feel connected to a place or group if that place or group is always changing and moving and deciding that they do believe/don’t believe/do believe that carbs are bad for you.

Now that I have given the "I love you but…bless their little heart…..God love ’em" speech, I will move on.

I spent Easter Sunday in London, which was quite capital indeed. Talitha, Tracy and I were lucky enough to attend Matins at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Though I have usually attended a charismatic/non-denominational type church, I have also attended a Reformed Episcopal church and a smattering of other continuing Anglican communities. My father, who is a pastor, was always conscious to introduce my sister and me to different types of Christians. We grew up to the sound of wailing black gospel and chanting monks. The soundtrack to our childhood was somewhat of a mix tape, if you remember those. We were lucky enough to be raised to know that anyone who confesses Christ and lives according to his teachings is indeed a believer. I was sheltered from this "He’s a Baptist/she’s a Roman Catholic and therefore he/she is not a Christian." That stuff drives me crazy. It is no surprise then that I married someone who even looks Anglican. I love this about him. Most of the time, anyways. Except for when he is wrong.
Having been rather exposed to different types of worship, I was able to really enjoy and appreciate this special Easter Sunday. It was quiet, but not silent. It was calm, but not dead. The choir sang with life even though they did not break out into dance. The Bishop (of London, no less!) gave the Easter Address, and it was accessible and orthodox at the same time. I enjoyed this service more than I had enjoyed a worship service in quite some time. Why? Well, I’m sure there was a bit of a golden hue around the experience, seeing as it was St. Paul’s Cathedral and I had just spent the week gallivanting around London poking into castles and gaining three solid pounds of scones and Devonshire cream.

But….there was more.

As we were filed out of the church for the next group of worshippers to come in; a bit like cattle actually, we all spoke of how much we enjoyed the service. Talitha noted that she could now see why visitors to her Anglican church spoke of the ’more charasmatic’ songs that were sung and the ’freedom of worship’. For Anglicans, this means that hands are allowed to be raised and that songs from this century are given the green light. (Kidding just a bit....) Tracy loved the service but did miss the opportunity for the congregation to join in through public singing.

And their remarks did a soft focus onto my issues. I thought of my own church and what would be happening on Easter Sunday. I love the Easter service here; it is one of those times where you expect to feel an emotional tug…after all, death and resurrection isn’t really a dry subject. I don’t consider this to be manipulative; nobody is going to hit you with a sportcoat to make you fall over or let off tear gas so everyone can hold each other and have a good cry. In a valid and appropriate way, Easter is emotional for many people.

But the rest of the year….this is what I struggle with.

I’ve grown tired of coming into the sanctuary to hear lots of swelling music and fast drums and dramatic recreations of Rahab the Harlot in modern-day Topeka. I know that this reaches people and touches people and is valid. I KNOW THIS. But I struggle because it just doesn’t reach me. For many years I thought something was wrong with me. I couldn’t ’press in’ or ’get caught up’ or whatever the Christian catchphrase of the year was. When my emotions failed to guide me and let me know how I was doing on the worship radar, what was I to do? Where was I to go?

And like a moment out of a movie, it hit me. Standing underneath the exquisitely detailed dome of one of the world’s oldest standing churches, I understood what was going on.

I’m human.

I am given to flights of fancy and whims of the imagination. But these aren’t always safe to trust, given that I am just me, trudging and skipping alternately through life. I am not yet wise enough to know if what I am doing is right or good. I have to trust those older and wiser and sometimes those that are already dead. (No, I am not holding séances.)

I’m okay with those super-charged services where you feel like your soul got scrubbed. But most of the time, I don’t really connect. I want to know that even when I don’t ’feel’ what is going on; I have still done what is right. I’m not the most emotionally stable person, and so therefore I need this function all the more.

I love that most liturgical services give people like me a place to work out their faith. I may not ’feel’ that God is there, but I can kneel and ’know’ that he is. I don’t usually ’experience the awesomeness’ through bright lights and guitars because I am somewhat deficient in the area of focused attention. But if I can cross myself, I know that what I’m doing is reminiscent of something holy.

I have usually been of the opinion that these types of churches were more for the elite of society: the brainiacs, the wine connoisseur, and the really, really, really, rich, old people. But somewhere in that odd group, there is a place for me: the peasant. No, I’m not out begging for bread. I just don’t know what else to call myself. I am just a regular person with an hourly job who is taking care of her family and trying to have the best life that I can. I’m not enlightened or superior in the spiritual way that I so admire. I need a place that gives my hands something to do when my heart isn’t cooperating. When I don’t feel like raising my hands, I can still raise the Chalice. And for some reason, this clicks with me.

This may all come down to personality and preference; I’m sure that it probably does. I know that you get out of it what you put in. I’m not saying that I cannot attend the church I attend. But it is a struggle for me, and I just wanted to put all that out on paper so that I could understand it better.

In the end, I can be glad that the place I am working/volunteering for Sunday School/attending church/working out/buying coffee is a good place. I do appreciate what they do, because they do reach a number of people. We cannot always be in our ideal situation, and sometimes the ideal is only just that.

St. Paul’s is golden hued because it provided me with insight and clarity and some much needed respite. I thank it and hold it in my heart as such. I’m sure that the regular attendees of this ancient place are irritated with the drafty windows or the naughty children who don’t listen during the lesson and eat paste.

To each their own; and each definitely has their own. Hope that makes sense. If not, forgive me. I’m one of those children who used to eat paste.

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